Dominic Duval and the Equinox Trio

Leo / CDLR267

Dominic Duval / bass, mallets, piano, cymbal, voice, Tomas Ulrich / cello, voice, whistle, Michael Jefry Stevens / piano, mallets

Duval and Ulrich are the bottom half of the CT String Quartet, who released two disks on Leo last year to wide critical acclaim. Stevens, too, released with Leo last year as a member of the Fonda/Stevens Group. Now, the CT quartet are influenced by free jazz but what they play is most strongly connected with high Modernist composition; Stevens, on the other hand, is a mainstream jazz player with a penchant for dissonance. It sounds like a centaur: Jazz Man Gets Culture, or, heaven forfend, Classical Boffins Do Jazz. Well might you approach with trepidation.

It’s nothing of the sort, of course. That picture misses the fact that Duval and Ulrich have been working in jazz for years, and while Stevens retains his jazz sensibilities here he certainly isn’t calling “I’ve Got Rhythm” from the back. He’s capable of finding perfect, sour harmonies to accompany Duval and Ulrich, and has excellent ears. And on the other hand, this disk, on the surface at least, sounds absolutely nothing like jazz. It’s connection with Modernism is clear from the start, and also its ties to more mainstream musics.

Stuart Broomer mentions Bartok in his sleeve notes, who seems a perfect person to have influenced Duval. The bassist plays ideas born of angular, post-serialist abstraction but always, always with a heavily Romantic execution. His vibrato is heavy, he employs grace notes and long, languorous glissandi in his mostly slow lines; he sounds for all the world as if he’s playing a lost Hindemith sonata. Ulrich, if anything, is even more old-fashioned in his tendency towards what is usually thought of as “emotional” playing, as evidenced in his solo track here; beautiful, but it sounds almost like the opening bars of the Elgar concerto. Although the music could hardly be more different, this disc as a whole can sound like a 1930s recording of Brahms; that histrionic lushness pervading every note. And there’s surprisingly few outright noise-based passages here. Duval and Ulrich enjoy playing notes, and Stevens is happy to join them.

What this is a rather long way of saying is that the trio create a music which is somewhere between a rather Romantic kind of Modernism and a very rarefied jazz. This is nothing like the lingua franca of European free improv; it would be absurd to compare it with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble or AMM. Richly decadent and unapologetic in its self-indulgence, this is beautiful music despite being a pretty demanding listen. Stevens, in particular, is a revelation. Richard Cochrane